College basketball is just around the corner. In just under a month, the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team will look to improve upon an inconsistent 2021-22 season with this year’s young squad.
We’ll hear from head coach Juwan Howard and several members of the team this week. Both Howard and women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico will speakvon Wednesday as part of Big Ten basketball media days in Minneapolis.
Barnes Arico is set to speak at 9:50 a.m., with Howard speaking 10 minutes later.
This is a highly anticipated season for a Sweet Sixteen team that lost seven of their top 10 scorers. Here’s what we’d like to hear from Howard, Hunter Dickinson, Jaelin Llewellyn and Jace Howard.
How beneficial was the overseas trip to the team?
These games were not televised and closed off to media besides some local reporters. While they were only exhibition games, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering if there are any takeaways from the play in those games, primarily around what the rotation will be for this team.
Additionally, trips like this are great for team bonding.
“It was a great way to go out there and see where we were as an early team,” freshman big man Tarris Reed Jr. told me earlier this month. “Now I feel like, as a team, we’re bonded and connected. So, I know we won, I know the strengths (of my teammates), I know their weaknesses, but I know that trip made us stronger.”
I’d like to hear more about how tight this young team is. Good chemistry off the court can certainly lead to good chemistry on the court.
How much will Jaelin Llewellyn and Joey Baker contribute?
This one may be a bit tricky to get a concrete answer on, considering how new these guys are to the program. Both coming in via the transfer portal, Llewellyn is expected to start at point guard and be a main offensive catalyst, while Baker is looking to prove he can more than a spot-up shooter.
From the fan perspective, I’d like to know how much we can expect these guys to contribute this season. From a journalist perspective, I’d also like to know how they’re gelling with the others, along with whether or not they’ve stepped up from a leadership perspective.
Speaking of leadership...
Who’s going to lead this young team?
The obvious answer to the question above is Dickinson. The preseason all-conference center is entering his third season, and he’s expected to be Michigan’s leading scorer and rebounder yet again.
On the Defend The Block podcast earlier this summer, assistant coach Phil Martelli said he’s thrilled with how he’s seen Dickinson start to become more of a leader this offseason.
He’s not the only one who could be thrust in a leadership role. Terrance Williams II and Jace Howard have been in the program as long as Dickinson, and Baker and Llewellyn have a combined 165 games under their belt.
We know Dickinson is going to be the offensive focal point again this year, and him leading this young team can hopefully provide them with a sense of stability.
How much have players from the 2021 class improved?
When interviewed by The Michigan Insider earlier this summer, Dickinson said he expects Kobe Bufkin to make a huge leap this season.
“I think one guy that I think everybody on the team and the coaching staff is definitely expecting to make a big leap, is Kobe,” Dickinson said to Sam Webb and Tim McCormick. “Obviously, you can see the potential that he has, the skill set, everything like that. He’s got it all. I think it’s just a matter of him putting it together, and I think another year in the Big Ten, I think you’ll see him get a lot more comfortable in his own game. I think the game will really slow down for him, like it did for me. Even as a freshman going into my sophomore year, I could just tell the game was a little bit different with speed. It just all slowed down and made it a lot easier for me. And so, I think the same thing will happen for him and I’m expecting a big sophomore campaign for him.”
Bufkin played sparingly last season, but flashed potential as a slashing wing. Martelli said this offseason he’s matured and has learned a lot from Eli Brooks, so hopefully he can step into a bigger role smoothly this year.
When looking at Michigan’s roster, the two players who have the most mystery attached to them are Will Tschetter and Isaiah Barnes. They are both expected to contribute in some capacity this season, it’s just a matter of how much time they’ll earn. I’d expect both of them to come off the bench and earn more minutes in the rotation if they can prove they can shoot an open three and defend at the forward spot.
What can we expect from this freshman class?
The 2021 recruiting class was one of the most highly-touted in recent memory for the Wolverines, headlined by two five-stars in Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. The 2022 class doesn’t have nearly as high of expectations, but they’ll definitely be contributing to this year’s squad.
Reed Jr. was the highest-ranked player in Michigan’s class and he should be able to back up Dickinson and contribute as a rebounder and a versatile scorer. Jett Howard may start the season at the 3, and could end up being the best shooter on the roster.
Additionally, Dug McDaniel should be able to fill in Frankie Collins’ role as the backup point guard. Gregg Glenn seems likely to be redshirted, but is an excellent rebounder and defender who should contribute more in coming years. And Youssef Khayat could be one of Michigan’s most vital pieces, considering he can guard multiple positions, shoot the three well, run the floor and may be able to create his own shot.
While this group doesn’t have the star power that last year’s did, this is a deep class that should be able to help this year’s squad tremendously. We may not get a projction on the rotation at media day, but the more we can learn about these young guys, the better.